MADRID: Real Madrid saw off holders Bayern Munich 1-0 in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final which was as classy as the previous night’s was clunky.
A 19th-minute goal from Karim Benzema, after Bayern had dominated the opening phase, set up a return drama in Bavaria when Madrid will hope to have both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fit to start and play a full 90 minutes each.
This time around Ronaldo, after knee and hamstring injuries, managed little more than an hour and then gave way to the Welshman who was barely recovered from flu.
The winners will play either Chelsea or Atletico Madrid, who drew their semi-final first leg 0-0, in the final in Lisbon on 24 May.
No side has successfully defended the Champions League title and Bayern have work to do to end that record after failing to grab an away goal early on.
The visitors might have thought they were about to take the lead when Toni Kroos met Mario Mandzukic’s downward header with a goalbound volley. But Pepe got in the way to make the block and Real broke away with devastating effect as Ronaldo released Fabio Coentrao with perfect pass.
His low cross was perfect for Benzema to side-foot home his 24th-goal of the season and 17th in Champions League games for Real, during which time the Spaniards have never lost.
Benzema then turned provider as Bayern were caught out again on the break but Ronaldo failed to keep his effort down from 15 yards.
Di Maria miss
Bayern’s defending was alarming at times and when Isco’s deep cross eluded everyone just before the break, Angel Di Maria should have punished them again but volleyed wastefully over the top from the corner of the six-yard box.
The second half started in similar vein with Bayern seeing almost all of the ball but Ronaldo getting a sight of goal with an angled shot which was saved by Neuer.
The Portuguese, who had missed the previous four games with a hamstring injury, tested Neuer again from a rare Madrid attack before making way for Bale with 17 minutes remaining.
Bale’s last game had seen him score Madrid’s stunning winner in the Copa Del Rey and the Wales international helped give his side some late attacking threat – though Bayern came closest to scoring with six minutes to go when Mario Gotze was picked out by Thomas Muller. The substitute had only Iker Casillas to beat from eight yards out but could not find a way past the Madrid captain, who made a fine save diving to his right.
Muller then claimed a late penalty when he went down as he was about to shoot but English referee Howard Webb waved away his appeal.